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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op 47 (1903 rev. 1905) [32:37]
Pelléas et Mélisande, Incidental Music, JS 147 (1905) - At the Castle, Prelude Act I, Scene 1 [2:47]; Mélisande, Prelude Act I, Scene 2 [3:54]; Death of Mélisande, Prelude Act V, Scene 2 [5:07]; Entr’acte, Prelude, Act IV, Scene 1 [2:30]
Symphony No 7 in C major, Op 105 (1923-1924) [18:31]
Janine Andrade (violin)
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Nils-Eric Fougstedt
rec. Helsinki, c 1953-59

These intriguing Sibelius recordings, dating from the 1950s, have been issued by the Sibelius Society UK. Edward Clark, the Society’s president, has provided the source material from his collection. All of the recordings have been made under the direction of Nils-Eric Fougstedt (1910-1961). For those unfamiliar with his name, he was a Finnish composer and conductor, and it’s apposite that he’s presiding at the helm of these performances as he was highly regard by Sibelius as an interpreter of his music. He was a pall bearer at the composer’s funeral. His own early death robbed the music world of many fine performances and compositions that might have been.

Regrettably, the violinist Janine Andrade was never signed up by one of the major recording companies, and her commercial discography, when you compare it to some of her female contemporaries such as Michèle Auclair, Erica Morini, Ginette Neveu, Ida Haendel and Johanna Martzy, is meagre to say the least. All I’m aware of are some Mozart Concertos on the Berlin Classics label, there’s a CD of the Brahms and Tchaikovsky Violin Concertos on Forgotten Records (review), and some encore pieces with Alfréd Holeček on Supraphon. Then there’s this gem, a Decca 10” mono LP from the early 1950’s of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, now seeing the light of day on silver disc for the first time. It’s worth mentioning that Meloclassic have issued some of her radio studio and live recordings, which have helped bolster her discography (review ~ review ~ review). Andrade was born in Besançon, France in 1918. She was a pupil of Jules Boucherit and Jacques Thibaud at the Paris Conservatoire. Her concert career was temporarily halted by the Second World War. When it resumed she travelled as far afield as Japan, South America and South Africa giving concerts. In 1972 when she was only fifty-four, she suffered a massive stroke which left her with a right-sided paralysis and aphasia. Her career over, she spent her final days in a nursing home and died in hospital in 1997.

The Violin Concerto is a comfortably paced account which captures not only the passionate mien of the music but also evokes the panoramic vista of the remote Finnish landscape. Andrade possesses a burnished tone which sits well with a large-scale canvas such as this. The slow movement is particularly fine, expressing the dark and brooding melancholia inherent in the music. One senses a forward growing intensity as the music progresses. Tremendous energy is unleashed in the finale, with the double stops and other technical obstacles surmounted with nonchalant ease. The balance between orchestra and soloist couldn’t be bettered, so too is the singularity of vision between soloist and conductor. I’ve recently learned of a live performance of this work that the violinist set down in February 1962, with the Orchestre National de la RTF under the baton of André Girard (volume 10 of St Laurent Studio’s French Rarities series - YSL 0954). I’d certainly be keen to hear it.

Pelléas et Mélisande and the Seventh Symphony derive from a 1953 broadcast by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra at a time when Fougstedt was its chief conductor. This live event was issued on an Allegro-Elite LP (3103), under the pseudonym ‘The Symphony Orchestra of Olympia directed by Antero Saike’.

We’re treated to four excerpts from the incidental music for Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas et Mélisande. It dates from 1905, a year after the composer’s move to his country retreat at Järvenpää, to escape the bustle and pressures of city life, and was the result of a commission from the Swedish Theatre. Significantly, Arnold Schoenberg’s realization of the Maeterlinck play was completed the year before in February 1903 and was premiered on 25 January 1905 at the Musikverein in Vienna. Sibelius’ premiere took place two months later on 17 March. Maeterlinck seems to have been undergoing a surge in popularity at the time. The scoring omits bright brass and concentrates on a spare employment of woodwind and strings. The orchestral palette is rich, dark and, at times, menacing. It’s not without its soul-searching moments either. Fougstedt delivers a stylish reading, both captivating and compelling.

The performance of the single movement Seventh Symphony is missing its opening few notes, a feature of the LP it was taken from. Fougstedt’s is a red-blooded and seamless account, fully exploiting the epic qualities of the score. Timed at 18:31, it’s on the brisk side. Most of the performances I’m familiar with run between 20-23 minutes. Still, you get a compelling sense that Fougstedt is in control, steadily building up the drama and intensity. The age and provenance of the recording does reveal limitations in sound quality and detail but the volatile passion at its heart more than compensates.

With access to respectable source material, especially in the case of the Violin Concerto, the audio restoration engineer Mark Obert-Thorn has done sterling job. His expertise and dedication shines through. Edward Clarke has contributed a helpful and informative liner, providing background and context. I have to say that the recording of the  Violin Concerto ranks as one of the finest I've heard, standing alongside those by Heifetz (both recordings), Neveu, Stern (with Ormandy), Oistrakh (with Ehrling) and Haendel. This release, a true labour of love, will be warmly welcomed by Sibelius devotees. On the strength of the Violin Concerto performance, I’ve no hesitation in recommending it.
Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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